Most of us aren’t eager to admit when we don’t know something, need help, or make a mistake. We fear these things will damage our reputation and make us appear less than to others. But neither are true. It takes strength and self confidence to admit mistakes, accept feedback, and ask for help. Strong, self confident people do all of these things.
When some who works for me is willing to admit mistakes, I think more of them. When employees ask for help rather than spin their wheels unnecessarily, I’m appreciative. When they’re open to feedback, I’m grateful they’re easy to work with. And the same is likely true for you.
Arrogance masquerades as self confidence. People who are arrogant come off as strong and self confident, but it it’s a façade.
It may seem like your personal power and reputation will be diminished by admitting mistakes, and accepting help and feedback, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. It takes strength to say we need help or don’t know how to do something, to embrace feedback that stings or calls our performance into question, and to admit bad choices. And strong, self confident people do all of these things, regularly.
You won’t lose credibility or damage your reputation by being humble. Instead you’ll be seen as real, relatable and willing to admit a lack of perfection, and all of those things take strength that ingratiate you to others. So be yourself. Don’t pretend you’re better or more knowledgeable than you are. Authenticity goes a long way.
You’re talking with someone. He asks a question demonstrating he didn’t understand or hear what you said. You let out an exasperated silent or audible sigh and say, “Like I just said…” Saying “like I just said” or “as I just explained” tells the person that you think he’s stupid or doesn’t listen. Both might be true, but saying so won’t help your relationship.
I consider myself reasonably smart. And for the most part, I listen. If I ask a question about something you said, consider the possibility that your explanation wasn’t clear and find a way to rephrase what you said the first time. Resist the temptation to tell me and the people you work with that we’re stupid.
Letting people save face is an art that takes patience, good communication, and the desire to have good relationships.
Here are five good communication tips that will strengthen you relationships versus alienate you from others:
Good communication tip number one: Give people the benefit of the doubt. Assume good. People are doing what they know to do.
Good communication tip number two: If someone doesn’t understand what you said, take responsibility for delivering unclear information. It’s easier to change your communication style than alter someone else’s style.
Good communication tip number three: Put your desire to have good business relationships above the desire to be right.
Good communication tip number four: Consider that you may not explain things in the way others learn. Vary your communication methods. Most people don’t learn solely by hearing. Make your explanations hands on and/or visual, and you’ll reach more people.
Good communication tip number five: Bring your patience to work.
It’s tempting to tell people where they’re lacking, but it won’t get you very far. Say what you need to in order to get your point across. And if people are unclear, know the easiest thing is to alter your message. Take the path of least resistance; let people save face.
A professional athlete would never get on the court or field without knowing exactly what will score him points and penalties. But many of us go to work every day without knowing how we’re being evaluated.
If you’ve ever had a performance review or received feedback that caught you off guard, or have completed a project and were told your work wasn’t quite what was expected, you didn’t have enough information upfront. Don’t wait for people to tell you what they need and expect (which often happens after breakdowns occur), set clear expectations at the beginning of anything new and as you make progress.
The people you work for and with should tell you what they expect. They should give you feedback along the way. And many won’t. Your career management is in your hands, and that’s a very good thing.
When you start a new job, project, or any responsibility ask the person delegating the work some of these questions:
Career Management Question one: What does a good job look like?
Career Management Question two: What’s the criteria for success?
Career Management Question three: How will you know you picked the right person for the job?
Career Management Question four: Why is this project a priority right now? How will it impact the organization?
Career Management Question five: What kind of updates would you like? In what format, how frequently, and with what level of detail?
Career Management Question six: How often do you want to review my work?
Career Management Question seven: Who in the organization should I include or work with on this project?
Career Management Question eight: What history, pitfalls, or landmines do I need to be aware of? Has anyone tried to do this before, with what outcomes? Who in the organization supports this project? Who doesn’t?
If you’ve been in your job for a long time or have been working on a project for a while, it’s not too late to ask these questions. Simply approach the person with whom you’re working and say, “I want to be sure I’m doing great work on _____________ project. Can I ask you a couple of questions about the desired end results and how we should be communicating as I make progress?”
Lots of people aren’t the best delegators. They give us a project, ask if we have any questions, and provide a due date. Don’t fall into the trap of completing an entire project and then asking for feedback. Even if the person delegating the work doesn’t want to see your progress, ask for that feedback. Schedule weekly or monthly review meetings, present the work you’ve done, and ask for feedback. If you get to the end of a project or responsibility and are surprised by the reaction, you didn’t ask enough questions at the beginning and middle of the project.
People will tell you everything you need to do a good job, if you ask. Take control of your career. Ask more. Assume less.
I’m often asked, “Can I give my boss or the people above me feedback? Is that really realistic?” Giving people ‘above’ you feedback has everything to do with the quality of your relationship and less to do with the person’s title. If your relationship is good and your boss is open to feedback, then yes, you can practice the feedback formula with him/her. If your relationship isn’t that solid or your boss isn’t open to your feedback, practice managing up by asking for what you want instead of giving direct feedback.
No one likes to be criticized or told that s/he is wrong. When giving someone direct feedback, no matter how kind the delivery, you are telling someone, “You’re doing ______ wrong. Please do _____ instead.” Being that direct is challenging when you don’t have the best relationship or when people are highly defensive. You can achieve the same desired results by simply asking for what you want.
Asking for what you want is less judgmental than giving direct feedback and is a subtle way of telling someone s/he is not giving you what you need. And people who are paying attention will get that. They don’t need it spelled out.
Here are a few ways to practice managing up with your boss and other leaders in your organization:
Giving Direct Feedback: “You don’t make time for me. I’m getting behind on projects because you don’t take the time to review my work.”
Managing Up by Asking: “How can we ensure you get to review my work each week, so I can finish the projects I’m working on?”
Giving Direct Feedback: “Every time we have a meeting scheduled, you cancel it.”
Managing Up by Asking: “If meetings get cancelled, is it ok if I reschedule them?
Giving Direct Feedback: “You’re a micromanager. I feel like I can’t make a move without your permission.”
Managing Up by Asking: “I’d like to manage ________ project. What do you need to feel comfortable with me doing that?”
Telling someone at any level s/he is doing something wrong, which will likely evoke defensiveness. And being direct requires both courage and a good relationship. If you don’t have the relationship to be so direct, simply ask for what you want.
Last week I was at an event where no one sat with the CEO. The whole organization was present, and the CEO’s table was empty. What a career advancement missed opportunity for the people who work for this company.
Perhaps no one likes the CEO, or employees are afraid of him, or employees are concerned they’ll get labeled as a suck up for sitting with him. None of these reasons are legit.
The CEO is just a regular person. S/he puts her pants on just like you do every day.
Most employees have limited exposure to their organization’s most senior leaders. Don’t miss an opportunity to build business relationships with your organization’s senior leaders.
Here are four career advancement strategies:
Career advancement strategy #1: Senior leaders have very limited access to most employees. Most will make quick decisions about employees with the limited access they have. If you’re at a meeting with a senior leader, speak up (provided you have something useful to say). If you don’t speak up, when appropriate, you might be (unfairly) labeled as having little to offer.
Career advancement strategy #2: If you’re at an event with senior leaders, talk and/or sit with them! It’s not necessarily a chance to wave the flag for your favorite cause or company initiative. It is a chance to get to know these folks and have them get to know you.
Career advancement strategy #3: Be less afraid. Tell the truth, tactfully. Be careful not to insult someone or something, and speak up more.
Most employees are afraid of being fired and are convinced that if they offer a counter point-of-view they’ll be at worst fired and at best marginalized and never given another cool project. I haven’t found that to be true.
It’s not so easy to get fired in this country. People who don’t do a lot of work or who do mediocre work are often not fired. And you’re worried about being fired for speaking up? Pick your battles, be wise about how you voice concerns and ideas, and worry less.
Career advancement strategy #4: Suggest solutions to problems. People who talk only about problems but don’t offer to do anything about those problems are seen as annoying complainers. Offer to be the person who spearheads the solution. Don’t worry about if it’s your job. Just don’t step on others’ toes in the process.
You make your career happen, no one else. You can talk with your coworkers and friends all day. Don’t miss opportunities to get to know the key decision makers in your organization. Fear less. Talk more.
One of the hardest things I’ve ever done is hire someone to care for my infant son. “Here is the person most important to me in the world. Keep him alive.” I had no idea how difficult it would be to trust a relative stranger so implicitly. And as a result, let’s just say I’ve not been the easiest for a nanny to work with.
I’m embarrassed to admit that I wrote sixteen-pages of instructions of how to take care of my infant son. And I gave that ‘booklet’ to a nanny with much more childcare experience than I have. When I work from home and hear my son crying, I tell myself not to walk into the room and check on him, knowing it undermines the nanny, but I do it anyway. When the nanny sends me an update of when my son last ate, I reply telling her when he should eat again, even though I know she knows. Yes, I’ve really been doing these things.
Each time I over instruct, monitor, and advise, I regret it. I know micromanaging the nanny makes me difficult to work with, which is not how I want to be. It reminds me of a comment an old boss said to me after we interviewed a candidate for a job together. He said, “Shari, your job as the interviewer is to make the candidate feel comfortable and ensure she leaves feeling good, regardless of how well or poorly she interviewed.” My face must have said anything but, “I want you to feel comfortable and you’re doing a great job.” His words stuck with me and I’m reminded of them each time I over manage our nanny.
Many people attend training on how to manage others; I’d suggest we also look at how we manage ourselves. How does working with you make people feel? Do your questions, requests, and interactions make people feel more self-confident and valued or do people feel questioned and undermined? Do you pick your battles? Do you give just enough direction but not so much as to squelch the other person’s ideas, initiative and spirit, especially when the stakes are high?
As you know, I’m evaluating how I do these things too. We are always a work in progress.
Here are four ways to build confidence in the people you work with:
Build Confidence 1: Ask people for their ideas and implement those ideas whenever possible. And if you aren’t open to others’ ideas, don’t ask for them. It’s better not to ask for ideas than to ask when you’re really not interested.
Build Confidence 2: Ask for and be open to others’ feedback. People will be more receptive to your feedback when you’re receptive to theirs.
Build Confidence 3: Say “thank you” regularly and mean it. Give specific examples about what you’re thankful for.
Build Confidence 4: Admit when you’re wrong. Strong people admit mistakes, weak people don’t.
People can work with you, around you, and against you. Earn loyalty and respect by respecting others’ talents and knowing when to take a step back.
P.S. Congratulations to our Denver Broncos!
Most of us avoid giving negative feedback because we don’t want to deal with the recipient’s defensive behavior. We’re waiting for what I call, The Freak Out. The Freak Out is the predictable response to negative feedback.
Everyone wants to be seen as competent and adding value. When we give people negative feedback, we call those two things into question and the brain instinctively reacts. It’s as if you were driving down the road and the person in front of you slammed on their brakes. As an act of survival, you’d hit your brakes too. Becoming defensive when receiving negative feedback is the same instinctual response. We (almost) can’t help ourselves. So rather than dread and avoid others’ defensive behavior, expect it and have a plan.
Here are five ways to deal with defensive behavior:
- Plan your conversation by writing notes and bringing them to your conversation. I’m a fan of typed, double-spaced bullets that are easy to follow.
- Practice what you want to say out loud. What you say in your head is often different than what comes out of your mouth.
- Ask others for help. Change names and details to protect the feedback recipient and ask how someone else might deliver the feedback. Someone who is not emotionally involved will likely handle the conversation better.
- When the feedback recipient exhibits defensive behavior, take a breath and pause. Remember that you expected this. Don’t retract what you’ve said. Just let the person speak.
- Stay on track. Defensive behavior is designed to derail conversations. Keep the conversation focused on the feedback. Don’t become distracted.
What to say when people respond to feedback defensively:
Defensive behavior: “Why are you talking to me? I’m not the only one doing this.”
Appropriate response: “If others are doing this, be assured that I’m managing it. Right now we’re talking about you. I know this is difficult. Let’s stay focused.”
Defensive behavior: “You’re wrong. Everyone else thinks I’m awesome.”
Appropriate response: “I know this is difficult. I’m asking you to __________. Please do that.”
Defensive behavior: “You don’t like me and you’re picking on me.”
Appropriate response: “I’m sorry you feel that way. The reason I’m asking you to ________ is _______.”
Defensive behavior: “I disagree.”
Appropriate response: “I know that we disagree. And I’m asking you to __________.”
The key is not to get baited by defensive behavior. This is why I suggest preparing and bringing notes. When I’m having a particularly difficult conversation and the other person becomes defensive, I often become flustered and either forget what I want to say or back pedal. Do neither. Expect defensive behavior. Don’t get distracted. Stay on track. You can handle anything someone says.
People get defensive when they receive negative feedback. It’s hard not to. Everyone wants to be seen as competent, and when we receive negative feedback, our competence is called into question. So we react.
There are several things you can do to reduce others’ defensiveness – ensure you have trusting relationship and thus have earned the right to give feedback, watch your words, deliver feedback in a private setting, etc. But for today, I’m going to focus on getting a second opinion.
If you want people to be more receptive to your feedback, consider encouraging them to get a second, third, or fourth opinion. I’m a fan of casual 360 degree feedback – when we ask for feedback from people we work with both inside and possibly outside the organization. Think of 360 degree feedback like an orange, it’s all the way around, like a sphere. When you get 360 degree feedback, you gather input from all the different types of people you interact with, thus getting a more comprehensive and accurate picture of performance. There are different types of 360 degree feedback. 360 degree feedback ranges from the formal – an online, anonymous survey (I’m not a fan) – to casual conversations (which I recommend). In this instance I’m suggesting something I call The Core Team.
I suggest everyone has a Core Team of about five people who love you, know you well, and have your back. Most important is that you trust these people. You Core Team may be personal or professional relationships, or a mixture of both. You may have worked with Core Team members or not. What all Core Team members have in common is that they know you well, want what’s best for you, and will tell you the truth when asked.
My core team consists of a friend from high school, two people I used to work with, and my parents. When I get feedback that I’m having a hard time reconciling, I ask people on my Core Team to validate the feedback. It doesn’t matter if they’ve worked with me or not. I am who I am. I do the same annoying stuff in my personal and professional relationships. So a personal Core Team member can provide valid, professional feedback and vice versa. Sometimes they agree with the feedback I’ve been given and sometimes they don’t. But I always get compelling information to think about. And because I trust the people on my Core Team, I listen to what they have to say.
Don’t be disheartened if people don’t trust your feedback and aren’t receptive. Instead, see their resistance as human and encourage them to get a second opinion. And then talk again. Listening to and incorporating feedback is a process. It takes time, courage, and patience.
I always want to do things right and hate making mistakes. When I say or do things I wish I hadn’t done, I relive those scenarios way more than I care to admit, also known as obsessing. But maybe life isn’t about doing everything right. What if our primary job in life is to be happy?
I’m not making a list of 2016 personal goals, although I don’t think doing so is bad. Lots of people will set 2016 goals. If setting specific goals works for you, do it. Just don’t set yourself up to fail. You’re not likely to lose 30 pounds, save 20% of your income, start a not-for-profit, visit five new countries, and become a fantastic cook in one year. Maybe dial those 2016 goals back and pick two of them, but only if you enjoy working towards those goals.
Perhaps life isn’t about getting more done. Perhaps life is really about enjoying more.
If you want to set 2016 goals, I wouldn’t be opposed if they are:
- Have a job you love.
- Spend time with people who make you feel good.
- Speak your truth (nicely).
2016 Goal: Have a job you love. You don’t need to keep a job that doesn’t allow you to do work you enjoy and are good at. There are lots of jobs out there. Go get one you like.
2016 Goal: Spend time with people who make you feel good. Stop spending time with people you don’t like or who you don’t feel better after leaving their presence. Your discretionary time is limited. “I should maintain this friendship because we’ve known each other so long.” Or, “I should spend time with family members I don’t enjoy because it’s the right thing to do” is diminishing your happiness. Text those people occasionally and spend your time elsewhere.
2016 Goal: Speak your truth (nicely). People are more likely to quit a job and a relationship than to say what isn’t working and to ask for what they want. Fear less; speak more. When you speak from a desire to make things better and to strengthen relationships, there is little you can’t say, so start talking.
I won’t tell you not to save money, travel more, or become a gourmet cook. But what if your job in 2016 isn’t to do more? What if your primary job is to be happy? What would your 2016 goals be then?
Think about all the people and situations that frustrate you. Now consider what you’re asking for. My hunch is, you’re getting what you ask for.
While most of us aren’t great at telling people when they violate our expectations, we’re not any better at asking for what we want. You might be afraid of appearing demanding or may not feel you have the right to make requests. When you tell people what you expect, you make their lives easier. Think about when someone invites you to their house for dinner. If you have any manners (and I’m sure you do), you ask what you can bring. When the other person says nothing, it makes your job (to be a good guest) harder. Now you have to guess what the other person wants. It would be so much easier if he would just tell you. This also applies to birthday gifts and where to meet for lunch. When people tell you what they want as a gift and where they want to eat, you don’t have to guess and they are easier to please.
It’s much easier to live and work with people when we know what they expect from us. And setting expectations is always easier than giving negative feedback. Negative feedback implies someone did something wrong. And no one likes to be told he is wrong. Setting expectations provides a road map to success, making it easier to win with you.
Here are a few phrases to make setting expectations easier:
Setting expectations example one: Consider saying, “I need time to get settled when I come in in the morning. Will you hold all questions and requests until 10:00 am?” You’re not telling someone she barrages you with questions before you’ve even gotten to your desk in the morning; you’re simply asking for what you need.
Setting expectations example two: You could say, “I like to have things done well before they are due. Will you send me all input for the weekly status report by Wednesday of each week so I have a few days to review your input before I have to submit it?” You’re not telling the person that working with him requires a weekly fire drill; you’re simply making a non-judgmental request.
Setting expectations example three: You could ask, “Would it be possible to touch base once a week via phone during your morning commute so I can get your input on projects?” You’re not telling the person she is impossible to get time with; you’re simply proposing an idea.
One of the keys to getting what you want is make requests in a neutral, non-judgmental way. The more you ask for and the more specific your requests, the easier you are to work with. What you need and want will be clear; there will be no guessing. People may choose to ignore your requests and violate your expectations, and then you’ll provide feedback. But start with making clear and specific requests, and see how many fewer feedback conversations you need to have.